Jan Kopecky kicked off a thrilling month of high-speed action in the 2013 FIA European Rally Championship by winning Barum Czech Rally Zlin in his Skoda Motorsport Fabia Super 2000 today.
The home hero dominated the asphalt showcase from start to finish, locking out the nine stage wins on leg one before adopting a cautious approach on the rain-hit stages on leg two to claim their fifth victory from six starts in this year's ERC.
Vaclav Pech took second in his MINI John Cooper Works with Jaromír Tarabus making it an all-Czech podium in third.
And there will be more serious competition ahead this month too when LOTOS 70th Rally Poland takes place from 13-15 September followed by the Croatia Rally from 26-28 September. Like Barum Czech Rally Zlin, fans are expected to flock to both events in their thousands with the Polish round marking F1 race winner Robert Kubica's return to the ERC.
“I'm very happy to win my home round of the ERC and also for Skoda,” said Kopecký, who has extended his ERC title lead with his latest success. “The car was perfect all weekend but today was just about getting to the finish in the difficult conditions because we had a big gap and it would have been stupid to have made a mistake.”
Meanwhile, Jan Cerny took ERC 2WD Championship honours in his Peugeot 208 R2 with Molly Taylor clinching the ERC Ladies' Trophy spoils to move joint first with Ekaterina Stratieva in the standings. Rising Czech talent Mirsolav Jakes won the ERC Production Car Cup in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX, with the GPD Mit Metal Racing Team increasing its grip on the European Rally Championship for Teams after drivers Jaroslav Orsak and Antonin Tlustak both made the top ten overall.
Elsewhere, Napoca Rally Academy continues to lead the ERC Production Car Cup for Teams as Germain Bonnefis shone for Team Renault Sport Technologies. ERC 2WD leader Zoltan Bessenyey helped Eurosol-Honda Civic Type R to another maximum haul of points in the ERC 2WD Championship for Teams to extend his class lead by finishing third following a close battle with Raffael Sulzinger after Hermann Neubauer retired due to a mechanical failure. Italian Elwis Chentre finished second in his Fabia R2.
Following the sun-baked opening leg, overnight rain left Sunday's stages damp with mud being dragged onto the corners adding to the challenge facing the crews. Despite the difficult conditions, Michelin and Yokohama rose to the occasion as drivers praised the performance of their tyres.
Roman Kresta, competing on his last rally before retiring from competition, set the early pace by going fastest on the opening Majak stage to close to within 15.7s of second-placed Pech. However, a puncture on the next run cost him more than three minutes and any hope of a farewell podium despite his capture of four stage wins as he attempted to recover the time loss to fourth-placed Sepp Wiegand – impressing on a one-off appearance for Skoda Motorsport – and team-mate Tarabus in third. Tarabus also lost time with a puncture on Sunday morning but described completing the podium as the 'perfect' result.
After being delayed by a puncture and broken powersteering on leg one, Pavel Valousek made history by becoming the first driver to win an ERC stage in a Ford Fiesta R5. The former Czech champion was using the new-generation machine in competition for the first time on the back of limited pre-event running and got quicker as the rally progressed, going fastest again on the final run. However, it wasn't enough to beat Orsak to seventh as he lost out by 0.5s. Tomas Kostka, in the second Fiesta R5, was less fortunate, retiring on Saturday with transmission failure.
Robert Koristka completed the top 10 following a stirring drive, which the Czech said had exceeded his expectations. Germain Bonnefis took a strong 11th overall in his front-wheel-drive Renault Megane RS. He would have been higher up the order but for lost time against the four-wheel-drive machinery in the wet conditions on Sunday morning. Subaru Impreza driver Toshi Arai restarted following his exit on Saturday and demonstrated plenty of pace in his Impreza R4 STI.
Barum Czech Rally Zlin - Top ten positions:
1. Jan Kopecky /Pavel Dresler
Skoda Fabia 2000 2h15m23.0s
2. Vaclav Pech /Petr Uhel
MINI John Cooper Works S2000 +1m01.6s
3. Jaromír Tarabus /Daniel Trunkat
Skoda Fabia 2000 +2m32.7s
4. Sepp Wiegand /Frank Christian
Skoda Fabia 2000 +3m04.3s
5. Roman Kresta /Petr Gross
Skoda Fabia 2000 +3m58.7s
6. Miroslav Jakes /Igor Norek
Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX +6m35.8s
7. Jaroslav Orsak /Lukas Kostka
Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX R4 +7m52.1s
8. Pavel Valousek /Martina Skardova
Ford Fiesta R5 +7m52.6s
9. Antonín Tlustak /Lukas Vyoral
Skoda Fabia S2000 +8m27.4s
10. Robert Koristka /Michal Drozd
Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX +9m37.2s
ERC Production Car Cup:
Miroslav Jakes /Igor Norek (Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX)
ERC 2WD Championship:
Jan Cerny /Pavel Kohout (Peugeot 208 R2)
ERC Ladies' Trophy:
Molly Taylor (Citroën DS3 R3T)
Colin McRae ERC Flat Out Trophy: